GOOD GRIEF 5-21-17

Good Grief

May 21, 2017

Do you remember Charlie Brown’s famous saying, “Good Grief!”?  Is that an oxymoron, or can there truly be such a thing as good grief?  Let’s take a closer look…

When I mention grief, most of you will immediately think of death, and death is probably the largest cause of grief.  But there are other causes of grief in our lives as well.  Can you think of some?  There is the ‘death’ of a marriage, the loss of a job, the loss of one’s health or mobility…

Almost instinctively, at first we will try to deny that the cause of our grief cannot possibly have occurred.  We block out the loss and act like it never happened.  But lying to ourselves won’t change anything except to harden our hearts towards God, and block Him from healing our spirits.  Psychiatrists using the Kubler-Ross model label this first stage of grief as denial, and Christians sometimes prolong this stage believing that it is a sign of faith to be stoical, and that grieving shows a lack of trust in God’s ultimate plan for our life.  So they pretend to carry on life as normal.  But we must realize that grief is a natural physical and spiritual response to pain and loss.  It is not a sin to grieve!  Even Jesus mourned.  When Jesus saw Martha and the other mourners weeping over the death of Lazarus, He also wept.  In fact, as we heard in our Gospel reading, even though Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He chose to partake of the grief of the situation. (Read John 11:17-43).  Jesus truly sympathizes with all of our grief.

The second stage of grief is anger.  It is also not a sin to express our grief, our anger, and our doubts to God.  There are many psalms in the Bible where David poured out his heart to God.  For example, in Psalm 4:1 he cries, “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer” and then in Psalm 6:3, “My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?”  He also acknowledged that God already knew what was in his heart in Psalm 38:8-9 where he prayed, “I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart. You know what I long for, Lord; you hear my every sigh.”  And you can find many, many more examples throughout the Book of Psalms.  In the book of Job, Job sought to understand why God had seemingly forsaken him, and burdened him with such profound misery – so much so that he wished he had never even been born (read chapter 3).  Although he was filled with anger, rage, remorse, and doubt, he was honest with God, and he also spoke from the heart.  And God not only answered him, but the Bible says that “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” (42:12). 

The third stage of grief is called “bargaining”.  Hannah was childless and tormented mercilessly by her husband’s other wife.  She bargained with God for a son, by promising she would dedicate him to the Lord if He gave her one.  He did, and she kept her vow (read 1 Samuel 1). Sometimes when someone is gravely ill, prayer can indeed heal them, as it did King Hezekiah (Read 2 Kings 20:1-6).  But not always, as some preachers might try to lead you to believe, and when healing doesn’t come actually accuse you of not having enough faith or unconfessed sin.  King David prayed for his sick baby son, repented of all his sin, and had faith in God, but God did not heal him. (read 2 Samuel 12:1-23).  Instead, God did give him another son, who grew up to be King Solomon (vs 24). 

The fourth stage of grief is depression.  We may feel our life is empty without the person who has gone to be with the Lord.  We may think our illness or disability or whatever change we are grieving will keep us from ever being happy again.  We may feel there is nothing left for us to do on this earth but wait around to die.  While grieving or mourning for a period of time is understandable and honored by God, He does not want us to remain in this state indefinitely.  David realized that when he said in Psalm 43:5, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”  Indeed, until we ourselves leave this earth for the glory of heaven, we should put our hope in God.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”, and in Jeremiah 31:13 God promises, “The young women will dance for joy, and the men - old and young - will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.”  The apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  And to the church in Corinth he said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (1 Corinthians 4:16-18)  God has promised his children an eternity in heaven.  No matter how bad things get for us on this earth, our short time here is nothing compared to the infinite time we will spend in heaven, where God has promised He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things will have passed away (read Revelation 21:4).

The final stage of grief is acceptance.  We can accept what has happened.  Even if we are not happy about it, we understand that someday God will make everything right again.  As long as we continue to honor God and trust in Him, he will restore our joy, and guide us into fulfilling our purpose on earth, and comfort us with the promise that we will be rewarded many times over for our faithfulness through all of the burdens we have borne and trials we have endured.  Refer to this promise from 1 Peter 1:3-8 whenever you need assurance, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 

So yes, even grief can be good if we trust in God and do not turn away from Him; for He has promised that He causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose for them.  (read Romans 8:28)